The Leadership Lesson of Legendary Herb Kelleher


Since working for thirty months with Southwest Airlines awhile back, I have been an unabashed “Herb Kelleher (their Founder) Fan.” Even before working there, I definitely leaned toward his leadership in favor of employees over customers and stockholders though I could have argued for any of those positions. That completely changed once I started working for Southwest. Kelleher’s philosophy without apology was that your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with serving your employees and giving them the resources to do their jobs and the rest follows. He recognized that he could lead far better by love (“The Luv Airline”) and that people and not planes were the all-important priority. He would hire for attitude and realized that company culture was an intangible spirit and not a purchasable asset. That was the reason why for so long no other competitors could successfully copy his business model. Leaders like Herb Kelleher are rare, but remain the model to be copied.

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